Major Spoilers: Naughty Dog Talks The Last of Us Beginning, Ending and Slightly Alternate Ending
We’re not going to waste anytime warning you about the SPOILERS: If you haven’t beat The Last of Us and watched the credits roll yet, turn back immediately! There are massive spoilers ahead.
Seriously, you don’t want to read this if you haven’t beaten the game.
Okay, let’s continue.
As part of a postmortem on Edge, Bruce Straley, Game Director, Neil Druckmann, Creative Director, and Ashley Johnson, Ellie, discussed numerous aspects of The Last of Us.
Starting at the very beginning of the game with the prologue, the interviewer put it out there that, even though the outcome should’ve been obvious, it still comes as a bit of a surprise to players, with Neil responding:
I wonder why that is. I wonder if it’s because there are so few games where kids can die, where kids are in real jeopardy. You look at GTA: let’s just take kids out of the equation. You look at Oblivion: let’s just take kids out of the equation. Yeah, I know it’s controversial and I know it’s harsh, but it’s part of the world, and it’s part of the story we’re trying to tell and it was so important to show that. I kept telling Evan, I was like, I’m waiting for some Sony executive to come in and say, ‘you have to take out this scene, you have to cut it, it’s too much’. And it never happened.
Continuing with the prologue, Neil talked about just how difficult the scene was for Troy Baker (Joel) and Hana Hayes (Joel’s daughter), especially when they had to do a re-shoot:
It was toward the end of production when we shot that scene, and the mistake I made is that I prepped him for hit. I told him, we’re going to do this really heavy scene, it’s going to be your daughter dying and stuff, and I built it up so much that when it came time to shoot it, it was just so big. His reaction to it was just so big, I was having a difficult time bringing him down.
We went in circles a little bit, and then by the end we’d done I think eight or nine takes, and I was like, okay we got it. It came down to a point where I felt like we had it. Maybe not in a single take, but I felt like we could cobble something together. And then we did, and I was looking at it with our editor and our cinematographer, and it’s just not there. It was like, it works and it’s a better scene than I’ve seen in most games and I think most people would feel for the daughter, but something about it just didn’t feel right. I felt like we could do more with less.
Troy invested so much of himself into that scene. Between takes, he’s really crying and he’d have to leave for a few minutes and come back, and the girl that was playing it, Hana, every take she’s fully crying. If you watch the behind-the-scenes video, you will cry just watching them, it was so intense. It was so intense that we had a stunt guy on the set who said, I can’t watch this anymore, and he walked off the set. He was like, I can’t watch another take of this.
So I’m shooting some other scenes with Troy and I don’t know how to break this to him because he’s sure this is his best performance ever, and I’m like, remember that scene with Sarah dying? He’s like, yeah, and I said, we’re going to reshoot it. We’re so sarcastic around the office that we have this gesture to say we’re serious [Druckmann wags fist with thumb and pinky extended]. So I tell him we’re going to reshoot the scene and he looks at me and does the gesture, like he’s silently asking, are you serious? And he’s like, no, fuck you. And I’m like, no we need to do it. And he says, why? I’m like, well I feel like we can do something better. So at this point he’s upset, he’s visibly upset with me. And he’s like, dude, we can’t, it’s so good. And I tell him, it could be better.
So we schedule everybody to come in and reshoot it and he’s just pissed off at me. We do a few takes and he’s, again, throwing everything he has into it and I’m trying to get him to forget what you think this scene should look like. It doesn’t need to be big, and I try to tell him, don’t think of it as your daughter, think of it as your best friend, it just happened to your best friend. And he’s like, that’s stupid. And I can’t get him to get in that space so, eventually, I just tell him, here are the things you need to do: I want you to walk over to her, don’t worry about emotions at all, just walk over to her, check her wound, calm her down, whatever you need to do to calm her down, start picking her up, look around to decide where you’re going to go next. It became very mechanical in that way. Just think about the next step you have to take. And then we got it. It was this really beautiful, subtle and – I felt like – really honest performance.
Going from the prologue to the ending, Bruce said the final moments of The Last of Us “could really be read in several different ways, and it is open-ended and it is a somewhat ironic ending. It’s not your typical ending, but it’s still a nice resolution to me. It has a nice finality of, okay, all right.” Re-iterating something they’ve said before, Neil addressed the thoughts of people thinking they left it open to a sequel by adding, “what we’re saying is, if we never make a sequel, that’ll be alright. In our mind the journey has been wrapped up.”
Offering a bit more observation of that ending, Neil talked about how they had “focus tests toward the end of production and we do these exit interview, and there are people who have said, ‘I love the game, love the mechanics, love the combat, but you’ve gotta fix the ending, you really have to fix the ending.’” In fact, according to Neil, one of the most painful comments they received from a focus tester was, “‘Because she kind of reminds him of his daughter, he’s going to sacrifice mankind? Whatever.’”
Giving his thoughts on the ending was Bruce, who thinks that “in stereotypical games, the ending would be, everything’s good, we saved the day and everybody’s happy, and we’re all, yay, awesome! But this is two flawed characters in an ambiguous situation, the world is a dark world, hard choices have to be made.” To this, Neil added, “The journey was kind of for nothing, but at the same time it was for everything.”
In fact, the ending was something changed just prior to shooting it, with Neil explaining the reason for the change:
The original ending that for a long time we discussed is Ellie would believe the lie and you’d see them walking off to Tommy’s town and the camera would track up and you’d feel like, they’re going to be okay. It was about a week before we shot that scene and we thought, this isn’t honest, this doesn’t feel right, Ellie would know, I don’t buy it, we have to change this.
This is an Ashley thing but no matter what the acting direction is, she’s going to nod her head and be like, ‘okay…okay’. And throughout shooting, a lot of her improvisation for Ellie involved saying, ‘okay’. And I thought, you have to end on that. Whatever it is Joel tells her, she has to just be like, ‘okay’.
Calling The Last of Us “the hardest game that both of us [Neil and Bruce] and probably the whole entire team have ever made,” largely due to the fact it’s grounded in reality, the two game makers joked that they would give Ellie super powers where she can control plants and open up new mechanics, but clearly (and thankfully), it didn’t happen.
It’s obvious that the ending for The Last of Us has a lot of people torn, so if all goes according to plan, you should be reading about both mine and Anthony’s thoughts regarding the finale in the very near future.
If Ellie was given plant-controlling super powers, what do you think her super hero name should be? Let us know in the comments below.